Monday, November 28, 2011

The Descendants

The descendants survey their past. (Copyright Fox Searchlight Pictures.)
In The Descendants, the new film directed by Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways), George Clooney plays Matt King, a lawyer closing a development deal on twenty-five thousand acres of property on Oahu, Hawaii – property that he is the baron of, being an heir to royalty, and must handle in consideration of his many cousins. This familial obligation, critical to the future of the island, takes him away from his immediate family, however. In his own words, he’s “the back-up parent.” When his wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) falls into a coma after a water-skiing accident, Matt has to care for his two daughters: ten-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) and seventeen-year-old Alexandra or “Alex” (Shailene Woodley), who goes to a boarding school on the main island.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Northern Exposure - S1E1

(Not a Hollywood backlot.)
Northern Exposure is my favorite TV show. I feel that in starting these reviews, I should be up front about that. I recognize that many other series might be “better” (The Wire, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, etc.), or more influential (Hill Street Blues, Taxi, The Simpsons, etc.), or more daring (Twin Peaks, Community), and there are even some shows that at times elicited from me a more intense personal reaction (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Wonder Years), but in my experience no show was as formative, exploratory, literary, and earnest as the one that ostensibly started as a fish-out-of-water tale of a young doctor from New York City being forced to serve out a contract in a fictional small town in rural Alaska – on its surface, not something I can exactly relate to. The series had its missteps, including changes in the later seasons when David Chase was a producer, but it still has much to offer. In watching the series again, there were moments that still made me cheer, and moments that made me cry from sheer beauty.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Blue Velvet - opening breakdown

In honor / apropos / opportunistically of the new Blu-ray release of Blue Velvet and its special features (which Noel Murray wrote a stellar review of at The A.V. Club), I thought I'd post something I wrote quite a while ago for a critical studies class. It's a breakdown of the opening of the film - specifically, how it reflects two different Soviet montage theories.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Like Crazy

Like Crazy stars Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin as Anna and Jacob, two college students in Los Angeles who fall in love and, at the last moment, decide to ignore the looming expiration of Anna’s student visa. When she doesn’t return to England as preconditioned, the consequences affect their relationship and this provides the focus of the movie. This set-up at times invites a reaction similar to what one might have throughout a horror picture: “No, don’t do that!” When these seemingly intelligent college graduates try to bypass something as complicated as international law in order to stay together longer, for a relationship that – while passionate and heartfelt – lacks in experience, it’s difficult to fully root for them being together. As such, the movie feels a little predetermined, though not exactly slight.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene, the powerful feature debut of writer and director Sean Durkin, starring newcomer Elizabeth Olsen in the title role(s), is one of those films that seemingly comes out of nowhere and then is hard to shake for a while after. Its story and style are so unique and at first unfamiliar – it doesn't fit neatly into a particular genre – that it might not connect if not for the assured, nuanced hand of Durkin (who won Best Director in the Dramatic Competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival), and the fully realized performance of Olsen in a demanding and complicated role.